Squash varieties abound and they are all delicious and so easy to prepare. Either baked cubed or halved or even whole, squash can be served as a side dish, its purée can be used in quick breads or muffins, and you can even serve it as a bowl for your main dish. My favorite way is to serve it with risotto. I don't know what it is that makes them go so well together but the creamy, cheesy risotto served inside a halved, baked squash just seems even more comforting. You can't eat this and not feel all comfy and warm, it's just impossible.
2 or 3 small, roundish winter squash (such as acorn or carnival), cut in half, seeds removed
Salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 400F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the squash, cut side up, on the baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle fresh thyme, salt and pepper on the squash and then flip it over (cut side down). Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of your squash. The flesh should be very tender when the squash is done. While the squash is baking, prepare the risotto.
Adapted from The Food Network
1 onion, finely chopped
3 tbsp butter
Pancetta, bacon or diced ham, about 2 ounces
5 cups or more of chicken broth
Fresh thyme, a few branches
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan or Grana Padano Cheese
Melt the butter in a 4 to 5 quart saucepan over medium heat, stirring regularly. Add the diced pancetta, bacon or ham and let it brown a few minutes. Add the onion, continuing to stir, until it turns soft and translucent. Turn the heat down if the onion starts to brown.
Meanwhile, pour the chicken broth into a separate saucepan, add the fresh thyme and set over medium heat, and bring to a gentle simmer. Adjust the heat as needed to maintain this simmer the whole time you are preparing the risotto.
Once the onion is soft, add the rice and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes. Adjust the heat as necessary -- if the rice is cooked at too high a heat, it will turn brown and take on an undesirable flavor.
Using a ladle, scoop up about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of broth. Pour it in the pan with the rice, stirring constantly with a spoon. After the first addition of broth, the rice mixture will look a bit soupy.
As the rice begins to cook, stir it constantly, making sure that you scrape along the bottom of the pan so that it does not stick. You should see little bubbles popping up on the liquid from time to time. If it bubbles more vigorously than this, turn the heat down to medium-low.
When most of the liquid is absorbed into the rice and the rice begins to look a bit dry, add another ladle of broth to the pan and stir constantly, as before.
Continue to add the broth in 1/2-to-3/4-cup batches and stir the rice until you have used most of the broth (this will probably take about 20 minutes). It is now time to test whether the risotto is cooked. Spoon up a grain of rice and bite into it -- it should be tender without being too mushy. If it is still crunchy and tastes a bit starchy, you will need to continue adding liquid and cooking further.
If it looks as if you will run out of chicken broth and your rice is still not cooked, don't be alarmed. Because of variations in individual stoves and cooking temperatures, you may need more liquid than called for in the recipe. Simply heat up another cup or 2 of chicken broth. If you run out of broth, use hot water.
When the rice is tender and the risotto has a creamy consistency, almost like thick oatmeal, it is done.
Add salt and pepper to the risotto, about 1/4 teaspoon at a time, until it seems well seasoned to you. Stir.
Add the grated Parmesan cheese and stir well.Serve the risotto immediately in the warm squash "bowls" and have extra grated Parmesan on hand.